Category Archives: Film Review

I Am Home: Twenty years of ‘Event Horizon’

Twenty years ago this week, audiences were scared out of their wits with Paul Anderson’s sci fi-horror-fetish film, Event Horizon.  Plagued by production problems and studio interference, Anderson’s film ended up as maimed as most of the victims in the film (if you haven’t seen it yet, I don’t know if I blame you, but I would ask what you’re doing this reading this . . . . WATCH IT!)

I’ll be doing a more formal review in the coming weeks, but I wanted to get a marker out there . . . a warning if you will.

Fine.  If you won’t take my word for it . . .

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“Vacate… 

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… I want off this ship.”

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“You can’t.  She won’t let you.”

 

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‘Dave Made a Maze’ Is Zany Fun

I was fortunate to grow up with films like The Never Ending Story, Labyrinth, Gremlins, and Explorers.  To me, these zany films allowed me to explore my own dreams, to follow my passions, and to realize that the world is a much bigger, but not as scary a place as I thought it was.  These days, films are less focused on dreams and more on conquering our fears.

Yet, every once in a while, a film comes along that dares to explore the things that defined my childhood film experiences; a film that is so zany, so unbelievable that it just has to be seen with your own eyes.

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Here enters writer-director Bill Watterson’s debut feature, Dave Made a Maze, a film that made the festival circuit earlier this year and has entertained, delighted and surprised so many festival goers, and is now in a limited theatrical release.

Dave (Nick Thune), a struggling artist seeks to create something significant. Dave lives with his girlfriend Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) in a small one-bedroom apartment.  His problem is that he never finishes anything that he starts and he decides one day to build a cardboard fort, becoming trapped in the self-evolving maze leaving Annie and their friends to effect a rescue.

Developed on a micro-budget, Watterson made something really special out of literally nothing more than a few sheets of cardboard and some tape.  The acting is really what carries the film and sells the premise.  Thune is brilliant as the misanthropic Dave.  Kumbhani was absolutely hilarious as the deadpan Annie.  She is Dave’s rock and yet, is tired of his lack of follow-through.  As his rock though, she understands the importance of what Dave started and why he needs to complete his quest.

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The heart in Watterson and co-writer Steven Sears’s script comes from the supporting cast.  The cynical Gordon (Adam Busch) is more talk and less about action (no wonder why he’s a perfect best friend for Dave), Greg (Timothy Nordwind) and Brynn (Stephanie Allynne) want to be able to brag about this experience, and documentarian Harry (James Urbaniak), along with his two-man film crew, are determined to make the whole experience more frightening than it actually is.

The motley rescue crew ignores Dave’s warnings and what follows is a hilarious reality check in a cardboard world where they need to find an exit strategy, quickly.

The amount of detail that went into creating the visual look of the film is staggering and it shows in both the cardboard creations and the practical special effects.  This film is very much a throwback to ‘80s PG – rated movies with tongue-in-cheek references to Raiders of the Lost Ark.

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The references are where this film’s imagination shines.  Sure, there are unexplained inconsistencies in the story.  So long as imagination and dreams flow, life’s inconsistencies are bound to show up some times.

Now playing in theaters, sit back, relax and take it all in.  Life will never be the same after you’ve seen Dave Made a Maze.

Sun, Sand & Savages: Oliver Stone’s underrated return to form 


Oliver Stone’s Savages is the best film the man has made since the early 90’s, and reminds us of what colourful, bloody, hectic, Mardi Gras shock & awe blistering good times the man is capable of bringing us. His political/war films are all well and good, but for me the lifeblood of this filmmaker lies in his sun-soaked pulp n’ noir toolbox, the ability to spin grisly, darkly romanticized genre campfire yarns that exist eons away from the geopolitics of our plane. Savages is so whimsical it could float right out of our grasp on a cloud, if it weren’t so heavy and heinous at the very same time, and it’s in that careful balance of heart, horror and humour that the film comes out on top, despite a relative cop-out of an ending that can be forgiven when the package as a whole is considered. Based on a novel by Don Winslow, this is an odyssey of cartels, violence, love most pure, drugs, guns, California dreaming and a cast having more fun than they have so far in their collective careers, and I do mean that. The film opens with grainy, harrowing camcorder footage of sinister cartels beheading innocents to set an example, and that’s just the start of it. Pan over to Cali paradise where angelic Ophelia (Blake Lively in a beautiful, vulnerable performance) lives with the two loves of her life, gentle hippie Ben (Aaron Tyler Johnson) and hardened Afghan vet Chon (Taylor Kitsch), two brotherly marijuana barons who provide the west coast with the finest bud the region has to offer. They live in harmony, both in love with Ophelia, existing as a functional little romantic trifecta tucked away on the sun-dappled coastline, until darkness finds them in the form of the power hungry Baja Cartel, who want a piece of their impossibly lucrative action. Although spearheaded by a fiery Salma Hayek, it’s Benicio Del Toro’s Lado who strikes fear into hearts, a ruthless, casually sadistic enforcer who’s not above the lowest brands of violence and degradation. Del Toro plays him with a knowing sneer and a grease-dripping mullet, a positive scourge of everything pure and good in his path. Ben and Chon are thrown into a world of hurt when he kidnaps Ophelia, held as a ransom so the boys play ball with Hayek’s plans for aggressive expansion, promoting all out guerrilla war-games between both factions. John Travolta does his wired up thing as a cheerfully crooked DEA underboss who is their conduit to all things intel related, and Emile Hirsch their surveillance expert. This is a film of both bright light and terrible darkness, and it’s easy to get swept up in the hypnotically wistful current before the film turns evil loose and gut punches it’s audience. The visual tone is crisp and endlessly colourful, and Dan Mindel’s cinematography doesn’t shy away from the overt nature of the brutality, especially when Hayek’s right hand accountant (Damien Bechir) is gruesomely tortured by Lado, and during a daring highway ambush that showcases both Chon’s merciless tactical resolve and Ben’s fragility, both driven to staggering extremes by their love for Ophelia. Stone has always had a flair for eye boggling excess, dastardly deeds done under a baking hot sun and garish, over the top characters that would be right at home in a cartoon if they weren’t so tangibly present, especially in Del Toro’s and Travolta’s cases, it’s a beauty of a thing to see them both chow down on the scenery here and riff off of each other in a quick scene where they share frames. Many folks were underwhelmed by the work of the three young leads, but they couldn’t have been better, really, especially Lively, who’s wounded soul brandishes a sword and shield of sunny disposition even when faced with utter hopelessness, a lilting poetry to her hazy narration that threads the tale together in fable form. Commerce is chaos here too, as we see how the south of the border drug trade encroaches on many individuals who don’t yet understand the evil emanating from that region, and are rudely awakened. There’s so much going on in this film, it’s so vibrantly alive in every facet, a showcase example of the bruising, beautiful power that movies have over us. 

-Nate Hill

Twin Peaks: The Return of Phillip Jeffries

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Join Tim, Mya, and Frank as they discuss the latest episode of TWIN PEAKS, WE ARE LIKE THE DREAMER and the return of David Bowie’s Phillip Jeffries! For everything Twin Peaks, please visit Mya’s website here.

HAPPY 30th ANNIVERSARY TO GARY GODDARD’S MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE — A RETROSPECTIVE REVIEW BY NICHOLAS LOUIS CLEMENT

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1987 was a big year at the movies for me as a seven year old. Harry and the Hendersons, The Monster Squad, Three Men and a Baby, The Princess Bride, Adventures in Babysitting, Innserspace, Benji: The Hunted, Empire of the Sun, Project X, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, The Garbage Pail Kids Movie and Hope & Glory were all theatrical trips that I made with my parents, but nothing came close to the feeling and pent-up anticipation of seeing my beloved He-Man in Gary Goddard’s Masters of the Universe. My mother, being the amazing woman that she is, took my best friend Mike and I to see this on opening night roughly 30 year ago; I can still remember sitting in the theater and just loving every single second of this Cannon Films production, which looked to capitalize on the animated TV-show and popular action-figure toy line that every little boy just had to have. And yes, sure, fine, the movie was made on a budget like many Golan-Globus efforts, but the gee-whiz honesty of spirit that accompanies so much of this film still lives on to this day, and while financially compromised in certain areas, it perfectly reflects this sort of entertainment that was prevalent 30 years ago. Anyone can fire up their computer and make a CGI-dominated He-Man movie in today’s movie world, which makes the quaintness factor of this movie even more special.

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There’s massive Billy Barty as Gwildor POWER, James Tolkan, a.k.a. “Strickland,” as Detective Lubic POWER, and cheesey-wooden-awesome Dolph Lundgren as the blond and ultra-buff hero who must save the day. You also get an impossibly young and adorable Courtney Cox, and Meg Foster as a tough baddie. But the entire film was totally dominated by Frank Langella, who brought a Shakespearean level of gusto and gravitas to his role as He-Man’s arch nemesis Skeletor; the performance is a hoot to watch in retrospect and you gotta love Langella for majorly selling every single scene he appeared in. Written by David Odell (The Muppet Show, The Dark Crystal, Supergirl), the film centers on He-Man and his band of buddies, going up against the evil Skeletor and his crew, and ending up on Earth as a result of some sort of cosmic gizmo that’s able to bend time and space, sending people from Eternia to Earth and back again, and sounds like some sort of new-age synthesizer. Bill Conti’s robust musical score is excellent, definitely helping to tie the film together, while legednary editor Anne V. Coates (Lawrence of Arabia, Out of Sight, The Elephant Man) was recruited for cutting duties. The film’s visual look from cinematographer Hanania Baer (Breakin’, Ninja III: The Domination) is dark and square-jawed, while William Stout’s production design alternates between truly inspired and clearly in need of a few more dollars. It really does beg to wonder what this film might’ve been like if all of it’s financial ducks had been in order.

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Reportedly grossing $17 million off of a $22 million budget, the film would of course go on to become massively popular on VHS and cable, quickly gathering passionate support from youngsters before becoming a piece of solid nostalgia for older movie fans who remember the days of the sticky-floored theater that WASN’T laid out with stadium seating and wall to wall surround sound. It’s a shame that a sequel never happened as one is hinted at during the film’s final moments. You also have to love any movie that kills the young protagonist’s parents, and then allows them to come back to life at the end. This movie is so 1987 I can barely stand it, and there’s a treasure trove of behind the scenes information that’s available to read at both the IMDB and Wikipedia, as well as on YouTube in the form of retrospective reviews and commentaries. A former Disney Imagineering concept developer, Goddard also created and produced the rather amazing and extremely ambitious hybrid TV-series Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, which I was also obsessed with as a kid, before becoming one of the biggest names in the theme park attraction business, with credits including T2 3-D: Battle Across Time, Jurassic Park the Ride, and many others. Masters of The Universe is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

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Logan Lucky is a Winner

When writer-director Steven Soderbergh announced his retirement from filmmaking in 2013 to pursue painting, we thought he was gone for good. Soderbergh stated that there were too many obstacles to movie making.

“I’m interested in exploring another art form while I have the time and the ability to do so,” he told The New York Times in 2011. “I’ll be the first person to say if I can’t be any good at it and run out of money I’ll be back making another ‘Ocean’s’ movie.”

If you look at his Ocean’s films, the art of deception is just as critical as is the final, master stroke of the brush. This is not to suggest that Soderbergh deceived his fans from his absence. Rather, his Oscar-winning career has been defined through pictures with many moving pieces, creating a mist of subversion. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words and there is always more going on than meets the eye.

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We’re fortunate that he did not run out of money, and that he’s using it to continue his brilliant tradition of subversive heist capers with the ultra-cool Logan Lucky, opening in theaters this Friday.

Here, Soderbergh and Channing Tatum join forces again. No, Tatum won’t be thrusting about the screen or whipping out his pecs. But he does show his dramatic side as Jimmy, a blue-collar construction worker, who has recently had bad luck with a job and ongoing parental and marital issues with his ex-wife, Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes).

See, the Logans are very unlucky. They are unlucky at work, they are unlucky in relationships, and they are just plum unlucky at life.

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Adam Driver plays his brother, the deadpan Clyde, who’s had bad luck physically, a souvenir from Iraq, and he is left to tend bar in a dive. Together, they come up with a plan to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway. To make the job work, they need the professional help of the close-cropped, pale-blond explosives expert, Joe Bang (played by Daniel Craig with a perfect Southern twang), whose name says it all; and he delivers too. Elvis’s granddaughter, Riley Keough, got to show off her driving skills as the Logan’s sister, Mellie.

Lucky doesn’t have the same glam and glitz as Ocean’s, but it’s not meant to either. First-time writer Rebecca Blunt crafted a tale of comedic intrigue full of family dynamics (Magic Mike), torn relationships and revenge heists (Ocean’s Eleven) using the politics of the South to frame her story. Soderbergh’s deft direction screams “look this way!” as our characters set their plan in motion, and you are drawn completely in.

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There was definitely a sense of déjà vu with this film. However, Soderbergh has taken all that he has learned from his convalescence to create a painting full of rich, well-developed characters. We get to know Clyde and what makes his creepy, Ooompa Loompa-vibe work so well. We see why the cheeky Mellie fits right in with her brothers, and Jimmy’s tender side, even with Bobbie Jo on his back, and why Joe Bang has a sweet tooth. Even the venerable Seth MacFarlane and Hillary Swank have their moments of fun. It’s this intentional reflection on the characters and their situations that really make the film tick.

I am by no means mocking Soderbergh. His absence from the silver screen has made my heart grow fonder for the works he has yet to give us. For now, he has a victory on his hands. Help him complete that victory lap, put your foot on the gas pedal and race (safely!) to your local theater to catch it. You’ll have a smile on your lips from the opening frame to the last credit (and, for cryin’ out loud, stay until the very last credit!)

Logan Lucky is rated R and is in theaters now.

“Are you watching closely?” The Hains Report Presents: A review of The Prestige – by Josh Hains 

“Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.”

– Cutter (Sir Michael Caine); The Prestige, 2006

I’ve always been enamored by magic since I was a young boy. I don’t know how to perform any tricks and haven’t read dozens of magic books, but I’ve seen enough magic performed to validate my love for it. I’ve always enjoyed trying to decipher how a trick is pulled off. Sometimes I’m right, sometime I’m wrong. That’s the name of the game. In the case of The Prestige, Christopher Nolan’s 2006 masterpiece, I’ve spent the last couple years on and off deciphering the movie as best I can. A part of me doesn’t mind the ambiguity, and doesn’t need to solve the puzzle. The other half just had to solve it. I believe I have the movie figured out better than most, but whether or not I finished the puzzle isn’t the point of the movie. The point is entertainment, and I think The Prestige is amongst the finest entertainment you’ll find in cinema.

Apprentice magicians Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) work under Milton The Magician (Ricky Jay), frequently acting as fake volunteers for Milton in 1890’s Victorian London. Julia (Piper Perabo), Robert’s wife and an escape artist, drowns while trying to escape from a water tank with her hands bound when Alfred ties the necessary slipknot too tightly. She’s gone before stage engineer (or “ingenieur”) John Cutter (Sir Michael Caine) can break the glass with an ax. This tragic event sets into motion a bitter and violent years long rivalry, each man trying to one-up or sabotage the other.

During this time, Borden marries Sarah (Rebecca Hall), and together they have a child, their daughter Jess, while Angier launches his own magic career with Cutter and new assistant Olivia Wenscombe (Scarlet Johansson), and Borden perfects a new trick dubbed The Transported Man. The trick bewilders Angier, but Cutter is unimpressed, suggesting Borden uses a double to complete the trick. Angier finds that solution too obvious, and becomes obsessed with finding the answer at seemingly any cost. Through a series of unfortunate events, both Borden and Angier find themselves in possession of the other’s personal journals that hold the ins and outs of how each trick is performed. Borden’s journal leads Angier to Nikola Tesla and his assistant Mr. Alley (the late David Bowie, and Andy Serkis, respectively), in the hopes they hold the key to replicating Borden’s trick.

The Prestige reminds me of a Jenga tower. Remove the wrong piece and the entire thing comes crashing down, remove the right piece and it stands tall for a while longer. At any moment the film could derail if all the plot threads weren’t tied up nearly with a bow, and yet for me it never does derail. Remove the script from your mind for a moment. Are the performances great? At least 3 are Oscar worthy. And the cinematography, score, set design, and costuming, how are they? Immaculate as one might expect from Nolan and his trusted team. And the script, what do you think of it? Delightfully complex, thought provoking, and fresh. For me, there aren’t any cracks in the glass.

About that ending. The film gives you clues as to how the lives of both men will turn out. One is willing to kill a bird and present a new one to the audience in its place, the other willing to save the bird and re-present it to the audience. Bearing that in mind, the possibility exists that one of the two men acquired a machine capable of successfully duplicating a person, much like a pile of hats and black cats (“They’re all your hat.”). The first duplicate is killed, then every night for 100 nights straight, the man performs the “Real Transported Man”, constantly duplicating himself and either he or one of his duplicates winding up in a tank of water below the stage they perform upon. Perhaps the true prestige is that the other man pulled his trick off using a twin brother, while the other sacrificed his life and the lives of duplicates for the look on people’s faces when they witness his great trick.

Perhaps the solution is simpler, and the machine never worked to begin with, and Tesla was just a distraction from the real trick, the use of a double. And perhaps when that man found out he’d been tricked, he chose to use a double from prior engagements, a drunkard stage actor, to help pull off his great illusion, and no one ever drowned until the night his rival came up on his stage. Maybe a trick lock was always used beforehand and replaced with a real one to setup the rival. Maybe the duplicates seen in a morgue or standing erecting in water tanks at films end are nothing more than wax figures. And maybe the revelation that his rival used a double all along makes his efforts seem fruitless in his final moments. Maybe the prestige of the film is that simple yet no one wants to accept it because of the simplicity, and certain science fiction infused elements like a machine capable of duplication are far too compelling and obvious a solution to be ignored.

Maybe we’re not meant to solve the mystery, just be driven mad by our own obsessions with it. Maybe we’re all Angiers.